Author: Mick Fletcher

Mick Fletcher worked in the Further Education sector for over 40 years, initially as a lecturer and then as a local authority officer, before becoming a researcher and policy analyst at a national level. For the last twelve years he has been a freelance writer, researcher and consultant specialising in vocational education and skills policy.

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Miss Snuffy is right about social mobility!

Mick Fletcher

To my surprise, I find myself agreeing with Katharine Birbalsingh, who tweets under the slightly eccentric name of “Miss Snuffy”. Birbalsingh is regularly referred to in the less serious type of newspaper as “Britain’s strictest headmistress” and her views go down well with the Conservative rank and file. I suspect that it is her strong […]

Lib Dem landslide in Somerset – a sign of things to come?

Mick Fletcher

One fact shows the sheer scale of the Conservative defeat in the elections for the new Somerset County Council. The 61 Liberal Democrat councillors elected to the new unitary authority will form the largest group from that party on any elected assembly in the UK. Only the House of Lords – not of course an […]

The man behind Operation Mincemeat

Mick Fletcher

The film ‘Operation Mincemeat’ released over the Easter weekend, tells the exciting story of a key event in the second World War. The Germans were tricked into thinking that an attack on Europe from North Africa would start in Greece rather than the more obvious route through Sicily. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called it “The most […]

Thanks a million, Eton

Mick Fletcher
Eton by Canaletto

If further proof were needed that ‘levelling up’ is a soundbite rather than a strategy, the proposal for a new cadre of elite sixth forms provides it. Mick Fletcher explains. Trailed as one of the key measures in a programme to address 55 ‘education cold spots’, the aim is apparently “to ensure talented children from […]

Brexit, meritocracy and the retreat from reason

Mick Fletcher
Private Eye cover Leave special

Chris Grey, who blogs about Brexit and related matters, is someone well worth following. A recent post explored the fascinating links between the ‘partygate’ scandals currently engulfing the Johnson administration and the ideas and individuals that drove Vote Leave. It raised again a central paradox of current politics – that while Brexit and populism as […]

Elite sixth forms: a class idea?

Mick Fletcher
sixth formers in parliament

In a desperate attempt to divert attention from the mess in Downing Street, the government recently announced a flurry of ill-considered ’new’ policies. One was a proposal to develop a cadre of “elite sixth forms” which would “ensure talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the highest standard of education this country offers.” I […]

Raise your voice!

Mick Fletcher

At West Country Voices we like to tell the stories that others in the media don’t. Often, these stories concern issues that the powerful and well-connected are keen to suppress; they involve holding policymakers to account or exposing abuse of office. Recent stories have focused on the threats to our democratic rights and freedoms. They […]

The property price boom that helps the few, not the many

Mick Fletcher
Stags estate agent sign

In 2021 the average price of houses in Taunton increased by 21 per cent: the highest rate of increase in the country. It is a sign of how utterly dysfunctional our housing market has become that this was announced as good news. According to the Daily Mail, for example, “while it was good news for […]

Small victories matter

Mick Fletcher

One of our aims at West Country Voices is to stand up for the rights of citizens against the abuse of power, whether by government or private interests. In recent weeks we have sought to spell out the threats to democracy enshrined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, highlighted the demonisation of migrants […]

Will our MPs stand up for the lifeboats?

Mick Fletcher

If any organisation embodies the best of British values it is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).   It is funded by donations and almost entirely staffed by volunteers.  It is a charity independent of government, wholly dedicated to saving lives at sea.  Its volunteers are ready to risk their own life to help others, 24 […]

A dangerous dowry for the new Somerset unitary authority

Mick Fletcher

The prospects for the new unitary authority recently imposed on Somerset are not good. Like local government everywhere, the county is having to cope with a dysfunctional funding system and a decade of austerity. It will soon have to cope with the extra costs of reorganisation, estimated at over £16m. On top of this, however, […]

All credit to credit unions

Mick Fletcher
Credit Union sign on building

Credit unions represent the quiet approach to community action. While some groups, like Greenpeace or Extinction Rebellion, seek to bring about change by hitting the headlines, credit unions are rarely in the news and not well understood. Yet figures published by the Bank of England show that they serve some two million members in the […]

Johnson’s high-wage hype: a fake plan for a real crisis

Mick Fletcher
shot of HGV from a bridge

It is really hard to believe they are serious. A predictable shortage of labour because of Brexit, dismissed in the referendum campaign as ‘project fear’, has suddenly become part of the plan all along. Loyal Tories have apparently swallowed Johnson’s claim that crises in the supply chain show we are moving to a high-skill, high-wage […]

Employers are in the driving seat, but they don’t train drivers

Mick Fletcher

In an attempt to pose as doing something to help tackle the shortage of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers the government has announced that the Department for Education (DfE) will be spending £10 million to train an estimated 3,000 drivers.  Set aside for the moment that this is a drop in the ocean compared with […]

A plan that wasn’t a plan and a promise that wasn’t a promise

Mick Fletcher

If you are thinking of laying bets on winners and losers in the next reshuffle James Heappey, MP for Wells, may be one to watch.  He is desperately loyal, not associated too closely with a current scandal, and, unlike some of his colleagues, can speak his lines clearly.  Most importantly, he can repeat official nonsense […]

Lack of learning from Somerset’s failure

Mick Fletcher

Somerset residents face the prospect of a serious cut in the adult education provision available in the county next year, and substantial staffing reductions in their major adult education provider. Somerset Skills and Learning (SSL) is having to turn hundreds of students away and make teaching staff redundant this summer after failing to win a […]

Vocational exams and educational vandalism

Mick Fletcher
trainee plumbers

Government policy, even when wrong, can usually be understood.  Recent proposals for ‘chain gangs’ of offenders in high vis jackets for example might make no sense in terms of reducing crime but are explicable as an appeal to authoritarian voters.   Expert advice was clear that the privatisation of the probation service was doomed to failure, […]

Dealing with disappointing data – a guide for aspiring autocrats

Mick Fletcher
Carnical models of Putin and Kim Jong-Un

Even the most authoritarian of regimes feel the need to pretend that they enjoy popular support. Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-Un, for example, routinely claim to have won huge majorities in elections that were quite clearly rigged. In a similar way, UK politicians whose actions show scant respect for democracy, work hard to give the […]

Garden villages – are they as green as they seem?

Mick Fletcher

In August 2018 the government set out proposals for the creation of ‘garden communities’, intended to tackle the chronic shortage of housing in the UK and raise the standard of building development.  The name consciously harks back to the ‘Garden City’ vision of Ebenezer Howard but also reflects one of the stock cliches of property […]

James Heappey MP – an officer but not quite a gentleman

Mick Fletcher
MP James Heappey

I have disagreed with my local MP James Heappey on many issues over the years but never before had occasion to doubt his courage. After all he has seen active service in Afghanistan and Iraq and being on the front line in those areas undoubtedly took guts.  Courage is about more than fighting, however, and […]

Bulging bins and empty shelves – the Brexit dividend

Mick Fletcher
Rubbish in the street

It was all so predictable.  Ending the free movement of UK and EU citizens and making the UK a less welcoming place for EU nationals was always going to lead to labour shortages in key sectors.  Government were warned repeatedly but didn’t listen; or perhaps just didn’t care.   They can’t avoid it now. One of […]

Somerset binmen and Brexit: a story of waste

Mick Fletcher

Somerset residents have been warned by Somerset Waste Partnership that continued staff shortages will mean delays and interruptions to rubbish collection services across the county. The contractor, Suez, is struggling to cope with a lack of staff to drive their bin lorries and has called on people to be patient while they attempt to recruit […]

Lack of action on active travel in Somerset

Mick Fletcher

Somerset County Council (SCC) have contacted us over our article on cycle paths in Somerset. They asked us to add three points giving the perspective of the County Highways Department on some of the key issues raised. We are pleased to set out their comments here in the interests of balance and to quote in […]